Josh, my fiance, and I added two to the population when we arrived. Now, we're taking a Northfield native back out with us, our cat "Sarah Palin." Minus three!
Northfield, we’ve reached the hand off. The Representative Journalism Project has come to another turning point after eight months. Now, instead of reading the work of a transplanted, temporary journalist (me) you could soon have the opportunity to support the area’s indigenous writers. Those writers, sponsored by the public, would produce news material that could appear across a range of local media, including LocallyGrownNorthfield.org. (More about that coming soon).
As the Representative Journalism Project collaborators have been hashing out the details of that new evolution, I came to the conclusion this month that perhaps one of the best things I could do to ensure the success of our latest ideas would be to step out of the way, instead of remaining until my work contract expired in July.
Our guest today was Bonnie Obremski who announced that she’s resigned her position as the reporter for the Northfield Representative Journalism project effective Friday. She and her fiancé, Josh Rowan (pictured at right doing a finger puppet show in the KYMN studio window), depart Saturday for Key West, FL. Bonnie will post her own announcement tomorrow here on LG, so I’ve turned off comments on this post. Chime in on her post when you see it… and note the date, time and place of her going-away party on Friday eve.
Len Witt, the person who came up with the concept of Representative Journalism, is visiting Northfield this month. I’m inviting the community to join us at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 17 at the Goodbye Blue Monday cafeBittersweet Eatery (back room) for an hour of informal discussion. Please email me directly at RepJNorthfield@gmail.com if you think you might come. If we have a large response, I might change the venue of the discussion to a place with more space. Hope to see you there!
Discussions among LocallyGrownNorthfield.org visitors blossom and fade, to resurface another time or never again. Representative Journalism Project stories have had a similar cycle so far, but I’d like to insert a step when conversation about a topic begins to slow.
The goal of the step is to combine reader input and reported information into a single piece of writing. That way, a person can better see how the community and I worked together. I’m still figuring out what a final presentation of material would look like and how to make it as useful as possible, and I’m open to ideas from readers.
The subject of whether and where to build a new liquor store is one that has surged intermittently among Northfielders since about 2005. In 2005, the City Council was considering renovating or moving the existing liquor store on the corner of Water and Fifth streets.
In August, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued two citations to the city after inspecting the store. Those citations indicated an electrical panel was too difficult for workers to access and that the stairway connecting the main floor to a storage room below was dangerous.
A lengthy delay
The existing City Council appears to favor building a new liquor store, but the council has struggled to decide where to build one. The decision was significantly delayed in 2007 when council members suspected Mayor J. Lee Lansing had pushed too hard in favor of putting the store in his son’s building at the south end of the downtown’s main drag. That building was one the family had operated as a hardware store for more than 30 years.
Lansing has denied any wrongdoing. Even so, the City Council votedin December 2007 to ask Lansing to resign, but Lansing refused to step down or relinquish the key to his office in city hall. The mayor and the council continued to work together, but the council had the lock changed on the mayor’s office door to prevent him from working there, and tension mounted.
In April, the Lansing family’s hardware store closed, partly as a result of a separate legal matter, according to an article published in the Northfield News. David Lansing, the mayor’s son, had to move the store as “part of a settlement of a 2006 lawsuit that centered around the hardware store building,” according to the article.
In October, the results of an investigation by Steve Betcher, the Goodhue County attorney, caused the mayor to face five charges of misconduct and two of maintaining a conflict of interest while in office.
In January, new City Council members Betsey Buckheit (Ward 2), Rhonda Pownell (At Large, two-year seat) and Erica Zweifel (Ward 3) will fill three of the council’s six seats, to replace, respectively, Scott Davis, Noah Cashman and Arnie Nelson. Mary Rossing will be the new mayor. The looming turnover has caused some people to believe that decisions about the liquor store should fall to the new council. Other people believe the existing council will be able to make a sound decision by year’s end Jan.4*. Others still are discontented that the council is no longer considering repairing the old store, or getting out of the liquor business altogether.
A new approach
In November, members of the city’s staff attempted to come up with a way to help the City Council decide where to build a new liquor store. They asked City Council to come up with basic criteria. The city staff added a few more requirements to the list and then asked property owners to submit proposals. In December, the council began to consider five proposals that fell into the boundaries of the requests, and stopped considering two proposals that fell beyond those boundaries.
The new owners of the former Lansing hardware store on 618 Division St., who do business as the New Division Development Company, submitted one of the proposals the council is currently considering. In addition, the council is considering a proposal submitted by Mendota Homes, which would build a new liquor store on the same property as The Crossing residential building, owned by Mendota. That proposed site is on the southeast corner of Second Street and State Highway 3. The Q-Block Partners is another corporation that submitted a proposal. The partners would build a store on a property across the street from The Crossing. The Northfield Development Company is proposing to develop a parcel on 500 Water St. into a new store. That property contains the Just Food cooperative grocery store. Daryl Knudsen proposed to build a store at 717 South Water St., where a multiple-family house stands now.
Despite the attempt to aid the council in its decision-making, the request for proposals process the spurred another wave of suspicion over whether someone in the city’s government was trying to be sneaky. Complications began when the city staff devised a score sheet in order to rate how closely each proposal met basic criteria.
Four different groups of people, which staff identified as important players in the proposed new liquor store development, filled out the score sheets. Those groups were: Victor Summa and Steve Engler of the Economic Development Authority’s Infill Committee; city staff, represented by Joel Walinski, interim city administrator, Brian O’Connell, community development director and Steve DeLong, liquor store manager; Northfield Enterprise Center representatives; and Donnelly Development representatives.
Northfielders debated the selection of people, the criteria on the score sheet and the ethics of rating the proposals before giving them to City Council. There was also debate over what parts of the proposals were private and what information could be revealed to the public.
The city staff released the score sheet, with the names of the each of the seven property owners who submitted proposals, in November. Walinski asked one of the city’s attorneys to look up state laws on confidential information regarding requests for proposals. He then publicly posted a memo containing information about the law.
Perhaps the most significant debate occurred when Walinski said there were seven proposals and then Summa and Engler said that they had filled out score sheets for only five proposals when it had come time to rate the documents. On Nov. 20, Summa and Engler said city staff did not have score sheets for two of the proposals that had not met the minimum requirements in the request for proposals. Summa and Engler said they did not see the two eliminated proposals.
After Summa and Engler said they had scored only five proposals, Walinski said he could not comment on whether two more proposals had, in fact, been ruled out. That information, he said, was confidential. He added that he believed he had made it clear to Summa and Engler that any information about what they did during the scoring session was confidential.
Walinski’s remarks implied Summa and Engler had breached confidentiality. Still Summa, a retired documentary filmmaker and local political activist, and Engler, a former state senator, said they had not known the number of proposals was confidential, especially since city staff had released some information about the number of proposals and property owners previously.
The debate over the information Summa and Engler shared even seeped over to the Northfield News’ Web site. Jaci Smith, managing editor, responded to Summa’s written note of self-defense, which he posted on LocallyGrownNorthfield.org.
“It seemed to me he violated the intent if not the actual rules of the process,” Smith wrote.
Walinski has since twice refused to publicly clarify why Summa and Engler scored only five of the proposals and whether Summa and Engler breached confidentiality. Instead, Walinski said he would rather focus on the primary goal, which is to help the City Council make a decision about the liquor store.
A side discussion
While discussion about the matter unfolded online, James Gleason, one of the owners of the proposals that didn’t made the cut, came forward to reveal why he believed his family’s idea had been removed from consideration. The property was too far beyond the downtown area that City Council and city staff identified as the prime location for a new liquor store. Gleason argued that the council might not have been wise in eliminating his proposal because he offered the valuable commercial land across from the Target store for just $1. The information fueled a side debate between those who agreed with Gleason and those who suspected the motives behind his offer.
Have we learned?
I began reporting this story after attending an Economic Development Authority meeting during which the issue of the liquor store arose. I was shocked at how quickly suspicion seemed to grow among elected officials, members of city staff and Northfield residents.
I talked with people about what I observed. Some told me “Well, that’s just Northfield” or “Well, that’s just city government.” Some people pointed fingers at groups or individuals. Some blamed the infighting the City Council has experienced of late.
*Corrections indicated with a strike-through of the mistake and replacement text.
What does this latest development in the plan to build a new liquor store say about Northfield as a community?
Is there anything we can learn from these discussions?
How could what we learn help us in the future?
What is the most important question that has emerged from our discussions and have we answered it?
Bill and Ruth Ann Harnisch awarded the check in New York this morning. The university will be putting out a formal press release, but I don’t want to get scooped. So you will read it here first, unless you follow Ruth Ann on Twitter, she sent a Tweet as the check was granted.
The Representative Journalism Project is nearing its five-month anniversary and my collaborators and I could not thank the people of Northfield enough for all the support they have offered so far.
We’re hoping those supporters might chime in now and let us know what parts of the project seem to be working and what parts still need refinement.
One change I am determined to make this week is in how I introduce stories, document their development and finally present them to readers. I would like to gather more input from a wider spectrum of people, and do more to show them my reporting and writing process, before I produce a finished piece of work.
Now, when I put up a part of a story to introduce a topic, I would like to see readers help me put together the next part of that story for the following day, and so on until finally, I write a feature-length article that one might see in a magazine or newspaper.
In the evolution phase of story development, I want to be more informal about presenting the information I update day-to-day. I want people to know more about how and when I got the information, and what thoughts ran through my head as I received it.
I hope the increased transparency and opportunity for public participation will improve the quality of my stories and distinguish Representative Journalism as a truly different and valuable way for a community to learn about itself.
Please answer the questions below to help us know how we’re doing. If you prefer, email your responses to RepJNorthfield@gmail.com. Thank you!
What parts of the Representative Journalism Project do you value? What parts don’t work?
How can we further refine the project into something Northfield citizens value more?
How could Representative Journalism support itself financially in a community?
Hi, my name’s Ben Haynor. I’m a math and physics major at Carleton College. I ended up in a journalism class this semester and began looking at Northfield’s opiate problem. I met Bonnie on Friday and we decided to collaborate on a story. We had already been gathering information, conducting interviews and looking at the history of Northfield’s opiate problem this month. When seven were arraigned on drug charges on Monday, we felt prepared to cover the news and we were glad to have a team of two to do so.
In the coming week we’ll be talking with the authorities to learn more about the arrests, get a better sense of what problems our community still faces, and learn how police intend to continue combating problems with heroin. We’ll be speaking with police in other towns that have had similar bouts with heroin dealing to gain perspective on how a community can fight the problem. If you know more about Northfield’s opiate scene, and are willing to speak, please contact Bonnie or me at RepJNorthfield@gmail.com or email@example.com.
Northfield administrators are offering more money to Greenvale township in an annexation deal than originally offered in August, but still less than what Greenvale supervisors asked for.
Joel Walinski, interim city administrator, and Brian O’Connell, community development director, represented the city in a meeting on Tuesday night in Greenvale’s new township hall on Guam Avenue. O’Connell said the city originally offered to pay Greenvale an amount equivalent to the property tax revenue on the land in question for a period of two years, about $7,700* according to documents filed in city hall.
“We’re willing to go more time,” O’Connell told the three township supervisors. “State law says we can go from two to eight years.”
By Bonnie Obremski, on September 10, 2008, 3:03 am
Photo: Bonnie Obremski/RepJ
Mayoral Candidate Mary Rossing checks the poll figures on a computer Tuesday night. She and Paul Hager won in the city’s primary election and will face off in the general elections on November 4. For audio coverage of Rossing’s primary election party, click below. Length: 1 minute 57 seconds.
Note: I attended Rossing’s party after she delivered an invitation to me on Monday. Mayoral Candidate David Hvistendahl invited me to his primary event at Froggy Bottoms via e-mail on Tuesday night, but I had already left to go to Rossing’s gathering. No other candidate extended an invitation and I did not contact any of them to ask if they were hosting a party. I decided to accept Rossing’s invitation because, given my observations and her success in Locally Grown’s straw poll, I believed she stood a solid chance of performing well in the primary and I wanted to cover a win, if possible.
Since Representative Journalism (RepJ) is a pilot project, there is an ongoing evaluation component. Professor Rachel Davis Mersey (moving from the U of MN to Northwestern U this summer) will be conducting a variety of polls and surveys to assess the project’s impact.
We want your feedback on Locally Grown! Understanding how and why you use Web sites like this one is important to journalism researchers. Locally Grown represents a strong community conversation. We are interested in how and why you participate. The questions are simple, and the survey is designed to take you about 5 minutes to complete. You may leave any questions blank, and your participation is completely voluntary. Your name will never be attached to your responses, which will only be used in summary. This is about understanding your community and its resources. Our goal is simple: to determine the best practices to improve the work of other community Web sites across the country. We hope you choose to participate.
Our Representative Journalism colleagues have hired the first journalist for the project, Bonnie Obremski. She’s packing up her stuff in North Adams, Massachusetts where’s she been a news reporter for the The North Adams Transcript the past two years. After a cross-country drive, she’ll arrive in Northfield sometime early next week. We hope to have her on next week’s podcast.
Minnesota Public Radio’s Public Insight Journalis (PIJ) project hosted a moderated discussion last Friday night in their UBS Forum. A group of about 20 citizens selected from their PIJ database were invited to discuss the topic: The Press and the Public: What’s the new relationship?
In the PIJ handout that was used to help focus the discussion, Locally Grown was cited as an example of Approach 4: the public is the press.
Here’s the text (partial transcription) but click the photos of the doc to see it all:
There is no starker example of the divide between the press and the public than these statistics from a recent survey by Zogby International: Most Americans – 70 percent – say journalism is important to the quality of life in their communities, but almost as many (67 percent) say traditional journalism is out of touch with what they want from their news.
Established news organizations can’t help but notice as newspaper circulation numbers fall and broadcast outlets see fewer people tuning in. The notion of the public as passive consumer of news is passe. What is emerging is a new model of journalism built on partnership.
The question on the table is: What should it look like? Here are four broad approaches that can help get a conversation started.
Approach 1: the public as critic With this approach, the public engages in critiquing news reporting. This can include the creation of the Minnesota News Council – a group of journalists and citizens who rule on complaints with the press, or NewsTrust.net, a website where news stories are rated for quality by the public. It also means that established press organizations become more transparent. Methods include open comments on stories and providing the public with greater understanding of the news-gathering operation (through, for example, chats with reporters online to discuss stories).
Approach 2: the public as collaborator This approach calls for the public to participate in becoming sources for stories. Initiatives like MPR’s Public Insight Journalism reach out to the audience en masse for knowledge, which can then shape coverage. Other initiatives ask the public to help with investigatory work. This method, called crowdsourcing, sometimes uses the public as a way to compile information on a subject or enlists them to comb through voluminous records (as the Fort Myers News-Press did on a sewer project).
Approach 3: the public as correspondent With this approach, news organizations turn over segments of their space to the public and let them produce content with little interference. It could happen on news pages or on the air, but most times occurs online.
Approach 4: the public is the press This approach avoids established news organizations entirely. The public starts a grassroots journalism effort to provide coverage of issues ignored by the press. It’s typically done online and while there are examples of national Web sites such as Talking Points Memo, most of them work on a local level. A small scale example is “Locally Grown” – a website dedicated to the news of the Northfield, Minnesota area. This effort is also part of a larger initiative called Representative Journalism that seeks to marry local producers with funding to support them.
Since we and our colleagues are very close to launching the Representative Journalism project here in Northfield, these issues are now, um, more relevant than ever. So let’s discuss them.
Okay, I admit it. If Locally Grown had been mentioned in this piece, I probably would’ve blogged it on Saturday night when Curt Benson first alerted me to it. But it’s irritating that the journalist, Randy Salas, completely missed:
Click play to listen (30 minutes). The show will air next Wednesday, March 19 at 5:30 PM on KYMN 1080 AM. You can also subscribe to the podcast feed (or one click subscribe with iTunes). We seek your comments and suggestions.
Update 3/15: The RepJ team had a few more collegial visits in the Twin Cities yesterday.